Mapping: How Hard Can It Be?

Some time ago I decided to have a go at mapping. I had some experience with 3D CAD from my job and thought that the skills I had learned there would transfer quite quickly. I decided to use UT2004 as it was a game I was playing at the time (I don’t even have it installed these days) and to make things simpler for myself I decided to base my map on an existing one, that way I am learning how to use the editor rather than trying to do that while designing a completely new map. I figured if I was any good at it a new map could come later. The map was going to have to be one I knew well, and one I enjoyed playing enough that I knew my way around it really well so I picked a map from the original quake (though I normally played it in Deathmatch Classic. Thanks Valve!), DM4 by American McGee.

It took a long time to get right, one thing I cam across fairly early on was the fact that as movement is completely different in Quake from UT2004 a simple scale of the original level would not work. UT2004 needs more open space than Quake, and jumping with the Shield Gun does not get you anywhere near as high as a rocket jump in Quake I had to alter the level considerably to make sure that all the routes through the level existed. I found I was constantly loading up Quake and comparing particular jumps and the adjusting my level to suit.

The actual building of the level architecture is relatively easy in UT2004. you start with a completely solid area and can put in shapes which either add or subtract material to create rooms and corridors, these shapes have an order and are processed in that order when the level is compiled. There is obviously a lot more to it than that, particularly if you want to make something other than basic shapes.

Lighting in UT2004 is hard to get right, it isn’t a case of putting in a light entity where you want the source to be and having it calculate it. Because it doesn’t calculate lights by raytracing it won’t look right, you need additional light entities elsewhere to make it look like there is some ambient light being bounced around.

Texturing the level is fairly simple, I used textures from the Quake Retexturing Project though some, like the sky and lava I drew myself.

Once all the walls are textured it was time to start puting in the entities to make it into a playable level. I based the locations of guns on the Quake level using as similar weapon as I could from the UT selection, the double shotgun becomes the flack cannon, the supernailgun the minigun and so on. Player starts were then added and the teleporters put in. There is a lot of help in using the various entities that can be found on various UT wiki sites, the one I used most was this one, but there are plenty more and I browsed through several of those as well.


The hardest part of this for me was the bot pathing. At its most basic all you do is put down breadcrumbs to create trails for the bots to follow, the compiler then links these all together (along with pickups and teleporters) to create a web that the bots can use to determine the best way to get around the map. There are also entities that you use to mark jump spots and things like one way paths to consider. When done I was expecting a fairly good experience fighting the bots, however my pathing left a lot to be desired and I was wining matches by standing still as the bots jumped into the lava trying to get the Double Damage. After a lot of tweaking I got it playable in single player but there are still areas of the map that, despite being able to get to, the bots do not think are worth their while.

The result of about 5 days work? Well you can see for yourself if you have UT2004 installed as I have uploaded the .zip file for your amusement. Maybe I will get round to converting it to UT3 one day (or more likely UT4 by that time) but until then enjoy my poor copy of the best deathmatch map ever made.

Download DM-Four V0.85.zip (2.4MB) (link no longer works, will update soon)

Be sure to let me know what you think.

PS: I was quite bored when it came to write the readme file…


4 Responses to “Mapping: How Hard Can It Be?”

  1. November 7, 2009 at 22:14

    That was a very interesting read.

    I’ve never had a proper go at mapping myself (my design skills leave a lot to desire) but I did dabble once in Worldcraft for the original Half-Life. Didn’t get further than a basic room though.

  2. 2 congofx
    November 8, 2009 at 14:55

    Yeah nice article. I did a bit of mapping when I was younger. About 10 year ago I did a fair bit of mapping for Q3. I had one map posted that had a few thousand downloads from telefragged but I never saw it being used online.

    It was certainly very interesting and a lot of fun, mapping. There is a lot of work involved but it’s more fun than playing the game. For Q3 I had to use a program called Radiant and it was different from the UT editors. Unlike UT the world starts empty and you have to fill it. The trick is to seal off the void.

    I dunno if I could re-learn mapping these days. I think not probably.

  3. November 8, 2009 at 19:43

    Ah, Radient does it the same way as Half-Life (and I assume Source) then (which makes sense as both engines are derived from Quake 1). I did have a go at making a single player level for Half-life many years ago and remember it being an absolute pain trying to make sure that you didn’t leave a leak, and the inability to use concave shapes was a pain as well.

    As for re-learning mapping, the tools to build the levels, I think I have proved are easy to use, actually coming up with something good to put in it? That is where it gets difficult I think.

  4. 4 congofx
    November 10, 2009 at 19:07

    Yeah exactly. It’s the same for everything learning the tools is the easy part. Being creative is the hard part.

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